John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism

By Barbara Arneil | Go to book overview

1
Locke's Travel Books

THERE has been a great debate surrounding John Locke's state of nature as described in his Two Treatises of Government. How natural man lives, his essential character, the level of internal peace or discord in such a state, and its historical validity have all been subjects of controversy. Political theorists have demanded a coherent account of Locke's ambiguous natural state, for upon it depends his theory of rights and obligations ascribed to man in civil society.

Most modern scholars have argued that the state of nature holds no historical validity, concluding that Locke drew the state of nature to be an analytical rather than a historical abstraction. John Dunn, for example, posits that the state of nature is an 'ahistorical condition', a 'topic for theological reflection, not for anthropological research'. Dunn argues that Locke was attempting to 'devise a criterion which was outside of history, in terms of which to judge the moral status of the present political structure'. He concludes emphatically, it is neither a piece of philosophical anthropology nor a piece of conjectural history. Indeed it has literally no transitive empirical content whatsoever.'1 C. B. MacPherson comes to a similar conclusion: ' Locke, like Hobbes, introduces the "natural" condition of mankind not as an historical condition existing before the emergence of civil society but as a logical abstraction from the essential nature of man.'2

Locke, however, did see his state of nature existing in a historical sense. Clearly he believed that governments exist in relation to one another as in a state of nature, but, more significantly, Locke conceived of America and its aboriginal peoples,

____________________
1
John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke ( Cambridge, 1969), 97, 101, 103.
2
John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, ed. C. B. MacPherson ( Indianapolis, 1980), p. xiii.

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John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Locke's Travel Books 21
  • 2 - Colonialism and Natural Law 45
  • 3 - English Colonialism 65
  • 4 - Colonialism: Economic and Ethical Debates 88
  • 5 - Carolina: a Colonial Blueprint 118
  • 6 - Colonialism: Locke's Theory of Property 132
  • 7 - Locke, Jefferson, and the Amerindian 168
  • 8 - Conclusion 201
  • Bibliography 212
  • Index 223
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